Untouchable, De-dramatizing Limitations

Untouchable  is a 2011 French film, directed by Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano. It is one of the French films that has collected the most and that has enjoyed the greatest success, being the second in the ranking only behind Welcome to the North . The film has become a benchmark on disability, because it takes us away from pity and drama and takes us into a more natural, less tragic and more positive vision.

Untouchable narrates the friendship that arises between two very different men who come from completely different worlds. The film is inspired by the autobiographical book  An Improbable Friendship by Abdel Yasmin Sellou, one of the protagonists of this story, in the book Sellou explains his friendship with a count, Philippe, who was left quadriplegic after a parachute accident.

The two friends in the movie will be: Driss and Philippe. Driss lives in the suburbs of Paris, he is of Senegalese origin and his life is not entirely easy; He has a criminal record, is unemployed, and has no interest in finding one. Despite the difficulties, Driss is a cheerful and funny man, very carefree and who does not plan or worry about the future.

At the other extreme, we find Philippe, a very wealthy man who was left quadriplegic after a parachute accident. Philippe leads a monotonous and boring life and is overwhelmed by the pity he arouses in everyone around him. Philippe is looking for a personal assistant and conducts a series of interviews with different candidates, including Driss. Driss goes there with the sole objective of being rejected, stamping the papers to state that he has attended the interview and, thus, being able to continue collecting unemployment.

Surprisingly, Driss is hired, Philippe has liked his impudence and wants someone who does not look at him with pity, someone who does not do for him what he can do.

What at first seems crazy, will end up being a great opportunity for the two, giving way to a true friendship. With comic overtones, with subtlety and with great success,  Intocable  invites us to see a kinder face in the life of a disabled person, it invites us to see life in a different way and to understand that friendship is one of the greatest treasures that we can find.

Disability in  Untouchable

Philippe is fed up with his life being a tragedy, with everyone feeling sorry for his disability, with everyone looking at him as a quadriplegic and nothing more. For this reason, she finds in Driss that lack of mercy that she seeks so much, she sees in him an ally to be able to enjoy life again, even from her wheelchair.

Driss is tough, he comes from a poor neighborhood, but he’s funny and always wants to smile. Both are mutually contagious, they complement each other; Driss brings Philippe the fun that his life lacks and Philippe brings stability and the need to fight.

Driss is so carefree that he sometimes forgets that Philippe can’t move, which leads to quite comical situations. This comedy and this ability to see beyond his wheelchair is what Philippe was looking for, he needed someone who would see him as a man regardless of his limitations.

It seems that society looks with pity on those who suffer from some kind of disability. That is why  Philippe needs someone who does not take pity on him, someone who makes no difference and who rescues his illusion for living. Philippe’s life is monotonous, boring and the people around him only feel sorry for him.

Philippe, despite appearances, still has illusions and wants to smile. His self-esteem was deeply affected after the accident, he no longer has the courage to meet a woman and he does not dare to have fun, but deep down, he is a man who wants to regain his illusion, to rescue his inner child.

Driss’s carefreeness and his way of seeing life will make Philippe regain that desire, make him feel like one more, that his disability ceases to be the first attribute in his definition; he finally finds someone who forgets his chair and treats him as an equal, without pity or compassion, with total normality and naturalness, seeing him for the person he really is.

Beyond the friendship between these two men, Untouchable  is a breath of life, even in its bitterest moments. You can enjoy and live in any situation, both characters have problems: Philippe because he is tied to a wheelchair and Driss because of his social status, his past and his family. However, together they  manage to look at life with a kinder tone, accepting it and enjoying it, always living in the moment.

The influence of society in Untouchable

As we said, Driss and Philippe belong to two different worlds, but what we must ask ourselves is to what extent social differences may have influenced their lives. Philippe, thanks to his wealth, has had access to a good education that has made him a cultured man with good manners; instead, Driss has spent his entire life in slums, has been in trouble with the law, and has been unable to access education.

The place of birth and the economic resources of each one of them will mark their lives forever and, as a consequence, their problems will also be different . Driss’s family will be more linked to theft, drugs, marginalization and living outside the law, while Philippe’s problems will be totally different. Two people who live in the same city and yet have totally different lives.

The higher social classes, normally, are unaware of the reality and the difficulties of the people who live in the most marginal areas; But, in the same way, the problems of a wealthy person can be different and not less important for that.

The problems in our lives have a certain subjectivity, when we are children, getting angry with a friend can be the biggest problem in the world and will cause us great suffering. Although in adulthood we may think that it is silly, in childhood there are traces that mark, and the same happens with social differences. Money is not everything, in Untouchable , we see that the wealthiest man is also the most unhappy.

Philippe and Driss are two friends who complement each other perfectly, together they are able to bring together the best of their worlds. Driss’ spontaneity and nonchalance will add to Philippe’s culture, so the two feed off each other; Driss will have to work hard, learn and, in addition, will acquire culture. Philippe, for his part, will learn to live in a calmer, more relaxed way and away from social pressures.

With a simple, natural plot and accompanied by very real characters, Untouchable leaves us with a happy feeling, it brings us smiles without losing complicity. The friendship between these two characters fascinates us, traps us and invites us to worry less, to normalize the differences and de-dramatize them, to laugh at ourselves and to live and enjoy a little more, whatever the circumstances we have to face.

“Maybe I’m naive but I still hope I can seduce with something more than my bank account.”

-Philippe, Untouchable-